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Married to a Green Card Holder and Living Abroad – Checklist & Processing Time

Married to a Green Card Holder and Living Abroad

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Last updated: April 1, 2024.

By Asel Mukambetova, Esq. · Columbia Law School · Licensed immigration attorney

Married to a green card holder and living abroad? In this guide you will learn the application steps, the list of all required immigration forms and the processing timeline for a spouse seeking a green card.

In this guide, we will help you understand the processing time of a marriage based green card for a spouse of a green card holder, living abroad.

The total processing time for obtaining a marriage based green card when one spouse is a lawful permanent resident and the other is a foreign national seeking a green card, living abroad, ranges from 20 months to 24 months (or longer):

We have created a detailed guide, discussing the total processing time you can expect when filing a marriage based green card. You can check it out here.

Estimated timeline

Applicant Steps (in order)Estimated Timeline
Step 1. USCIS processing of Form I-13012-13 months
Step 2. USCIS Receipt Notice issued
  • 2 weeks from the date of filing
  • Notice of Approval received in the next 12-13 months.
Step 3. Visa number availability (F2A category)Varies (check the latest Visa Bulletin)
Step 4. USCIS forwards approved petition to NVC (“Welcome Letter”)1 week to 1 month
Step 5. Immigrant Visa Application with NVC2 weeks to 3 months
Step 6. Interview at U.S. Embassy or Consulate1 month after receiving the interview letter
Step 7. Green Card ArrivalWithin 6 months after arrival in the U.S.

You can also check out the detailed processing timeline for each of the USCIS application centers here.

Step 1: Filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

In order to initiate the process of applying for a marriage based green card, the petitioner (green card holder) first needs to file a marriage petition for the foreign spouse. This constitutes the first step, i.e. the filing of Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

If you’re the spouse applying for a marriage based green card and living outside the U.S., while your spouse is a lawful permanent resident, then you can apply through a procedure called “Consular Processing“. 

The petitioner spouse (green card holder) must submit the Form I-130 package, to establish a valid marriage relationship between the spouse.

The I-130 package includes these 2 forms, which must be submitted along with their supporting documents to the USCIS:

Step 2. USCIS Receipt Notice (I-797C)

Once you have completed filling out forms I-130 and I-130A and gathered the supporting documents, you will mail this to the appropriate USCIS office.

You can also file your I-130 and I-130A forms online.

If Form I-130 is filed online, an official USCIS acknowledgment receipt notice will be available in your online account typically 15 mins later.

Within a period of about 2-3 weeks, you will receive an official ‘receipt notice’ from USCIS, in the mail. 

This receipt notice confirms that USCIS has successfully received your application.

It also contains a set of case numbers (“receipt number”), which you can use to track your ‘case status’ on the USCIS website.

If USCIS needs more information or document(s) to process your application, it will send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), typically within 2–3 months after receiving your application.

After successfully receiving your Form I-130, USCIS will then make a decision on your case and send you a Notice of Approval  (I-797C) within 12 months.

  • Receipt notice (I-797C) issued around 2 weeks after mailing the application to USCIS.
  • USCIS sends a Notice of Approval in the next 12 months.

Step 3. Visa number availability (F2A category)

After approving the I-130 petition, USCIS transfers the case to the National Visa Center (NVC). You can check the current NVC processing times here.

The next step is submitting an immigration application form (DS-260) and the supporting documents online with NVC.

However, since the sponsoring spouse is a green card holder and not a U.S. citizen, there might be a waiting period for the availability of a green card.

Once the NVC identifies the case, the spouse of U.S. green card holder needs to wait until visa number in so-called F2A category” becomes available, as stated in the Visa Bulletin

If the F2A category is “C” (Current), your spouse can immediately start applying for immigrant visa by filling out Form DS-260 with NVC.

If F2A category is not current, this means that once USCIS approves your Form I-130, the spouse seeking the green card must need to wait until the visa number for category F2A becomes available.

This wait time varies upon the foreign spouse’s country of residence and current Visa Bulletin schedule.

For foreign spouses, the wait time can vary, depending upon their country of birth.

To check the current visa number availability, check the latest U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin.

The Visa Bulletin is updated every month, so always check out the latest bulletin.

Estimated timeline:

  • The visa number for F2A category varies, please check the latest Visa Bulletin.

Step 4. National Visa Center Welcome Letter

Once the visa number is available, National Visa Center (NVC) will email and/or mail a “Welcome Letter”.

It will contain a unique case number and invoice ID number, which then represents your case from that point onwards.

These numbers are important for filing future applications, so make sure to keep a record.

Estimated timeline: 

  • About 1 week to 1 month after USCIS forwards an approved Form I-130 petition, NVC will send you a “welcome letter”.

Step 5. Immigrant Visa Application

Once you have successfully received a confirmation letter and email from the NVC, you must perform the following activities:

After you complete filing the form DS-260 online, make sure to print the confirmation page, as you will need to present it during your visa interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

After you submit the form DS-260, the NVC sends out a notice confirming receipt of your DS-260, generally on the same day. 

Estimated timeline:

  • NVC sends you the Receipt Notice for Form DS-260, on the same day of submission.

Step 6: Pre-Interview Requirements

Once NVC completes processing your application, it will send you an Approval Notice and transfer your file to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country.

Within several months, you will receive an Interview Appointment Letter via email, which will contain all the details of your appointment: date, time and location.

However, there are a few prerequisites which the applicant spouse must follow, before attending the green card interview. Some of them are:

  • The applicant must schedule a medical appointment with a State Department authorized doctor in the country where the applicant is to be interviewed.
  • Your interview appointment letter will contain information on how to find an approved doctor.
  • The interview appointment letter you receive will provide information on how to find an approved doctor.
  • Once your medical exam is completed, the doctor will give you your exam results and vaccination record, which you must carry with you to the interview.
  • Before the interview, the spouse seeking a green card must sign up online and provide his or her address.
  • This is the address to which the passport can be returned after an approved visa stamp is placed in the passport.
  • To get the full embassy/consulate specific requirements, use the NVC Pre-Interview Checklist.
  • The biometrics is approximately a 30-60 minutes procedure where the agency will take the applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and/or signature. 
  • Using this information, the government agency performs a detailed background check of the foreign applicant, confirming their identity.

Step 7: Immigrant Visa Interview

About 1-2 months after receiving the interview letter, the applicant attends the interview. 

The visa interview will be arranged at a U.S. embassy or consulate in the applicant spouse’s home country.

The exact time, date and location of the interview will be mentioned in the appointment notice.

The sponsoring spouse does not attend this interview.

If the consular officer approves your immigrant visa application, you will be issued an immigrant visa, which will allow you to enter the U.S. within 6 months.

Estimated timeline: 

  • Interview date is scheduled in several months after NVC finds your case is “documentarily qualified”.

Step 8: Green Card Arrival

If the interview goes well and the consular officer determines your marriage is bona fide, they may approve your immigrant visa the same day.

A few weeks later, the foreign spouse will receive a visa stamp in their passport, allowing travel to the United States.

After attending the interview, the spouse gets an immigrant visa and they have 6 months to enter the U.S. 

Only after arriving in the U.S., USCIS will mail the green card itself.

Note that the immigrant visa will be valid for only 6 months and you must enter the U.S. only in this time window. 

Next, you will need to pay an Immigrant Fee of $235, which can be paid online. 

Estimated timeline: 

  • Typically, it takes up about 6 months to receive the green card in mail, after the applicant spouse arrives in the United States. It takes longer in some cases.

Step 9: Conditional Green Card

The type of green card you receive will depend on how long you and your spouse have been married on the day you were given permanent residence.

If You’ve Been Married for Less than 2 Years

If you and your foreign spouse have been married for less than 2 years at the time of issuance of a green card, the permanent resident card issued to your immigrant spouse will be valid for a period of 2 years

This temporary green card is called a ‘Conditional resident green card’ or CR-1.

To obtain an “unconditional” 10-years green card you and your spouse must file jointly Form I-751 in the U.S.

This process is called “removing conditions on residence”.

After successfully removing conditions on residence, you will receive a permanent resident card, valid for 10 years.

Form I-751 must be filed 90 days prior to the expiration of the permanent resident card (of 2 years validity) with USCIS.

While reviewing your I-751 application, USCIS will have one more opportunity to determine if the marriage is authentic.

If You’ve Been Married for over 2 Years

If you and your foreign spouse have been married for 2 years or more on the day you became a permanent resident, you will receive a green card valid for 10 years. 

You don’t need to remove conditions on your permanent residence if you received a 10-years green card.

Related links:

Marriage green card

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

How to Fill Out Form I-130A

Form I-864, Affidavit of Support

DS-260 Form – Step-By-Step Guide

USCIS Case Processing Times